A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Poem of the Day: Edward Taylor

Upon a Spider Catching a Fly

Thou sorrow, venom elf: 
     Is this thy play, 
To spin a web out of thyself 
     To catch a fly? 
          For why?

I saw a pettish wasp 
     Fall foul therein, 
Whom yet the whorl-pins did not clasp
     Lest he should fling 
           His sting. 

But as afraid, remote 
     Didst stand hereat 
And with thy little fingers stroke 
     And gently tap 
          His back. 

Thus gently him didst treat 
     Lest he should pet, 
And in a froppish, waspish heat 
     Should greatly fret 
          Thy net. 

Whereas the silly fly, 
     Caught by its leg 
Thou by the throat tookst hastily 
     And hind the head 
          Bite dead. 

This goes to pot, that not 
     Nature doth call. 
Strive not above what strength hath got
     Lest in the brawl 
          Thou fall. 

This fray seems thus to us. 
    Hell's spider gets 
His entrails spun to whip-cords thus, 
     And wove to nets 
          And sets. 

To tangle Adam's race 
     In's stratagems 
To their destructions, spoiled, made base
     By venom things, 
          Damned sins. 

But mighty, gracious Lord 
     Communicate 
Thy grace to break the cord, afford 
     Us glory's gate 
          And state. 

We'll nightingale sing like 
     When perched on high 
In glory's cage, thy glory, bright, 
     And thankfully, 
          For joy.
--Edward Taylor 

Yesterday a snake, today a spider. Not intentionally trying to creep anyone out here. Taylor's little sermon about the wiles of an arachnid Satan -- stroking its waspish enemy into submission, swiftly dispatching the silly fly -- is pretty potent stuff. It's worth comparing Frost's poem about a spider:
Design 

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white, 
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth 
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth -- 
Assorted characters of death and blight 
Mixed ready to begin the morning right, 
Like the ingredients of a witches' broth -- 
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth, 
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white, 
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height, 
Then steered the white moth thither in the night? 
What but design of darkness to appall? -- 
If design govern in a thing so small.
 While Frost's questioning is more to my way of thinking about things -- you might read this as a kind of response to "intelligent design" -- I think Taylor has given us the more satisfying, and wittier, poem.